I just returned to Oaxaca after exploring other parts of Mexico, including a week in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (Edomex), where ikat rebozos or shawls are hand-woven on back-strap and flying shuttle looms by master artisans. This experience was so inspiring, that I want to share it with you. I invite you to return with me for a memorable, curated Mexican textile and folk art study tour.
February 3-11, 2016 – 8 nights, 9 days
Group size limited to 12 people. We have 5 spaces left!
You will arrive and leave from Mexico City
- Meet together in Mexico City on February 3 with an overnight there at a historic center hotel
- Travel to and stay in Tenancingo from February 4 to 10 at a bed and breakfast oasis
- Enjoy the company of our bi-lingual guide who migrated from the U.S. to Tenancingo to marry a local thirteen years ago
- Meet the master weavers of Tenancingo de Degollado in their home workshops
- Learn about ikat warp thread preparation, the complexity of this at-risk textile art and how to differentiate quality
- Participate in hands-on natural dye and weaving demonstrations
- Understand the intricacy of a fine hand-knotted punta/repacejo (or fringe) and how it adds to the beauty of the lienza (cloth)
- Visit three of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos – magic villages where traditional life flourishes
- Spend a day in Taxco de Alarcon,with the next generation of William Spratling Silversmiths. At famed Las Delicias, see jewelry making at its finest using Spratling’s original molds with his same excellent handcrafted quality
- Travel to Metepec, a Pueblo Magico, and stay overnight on February 10 where you will meet outstanding ceramic artists who make Tree of Life sculptures and cazuelas cooking vessels
- Travel to Mexico City on February 11 to depart for home OR stay on your own through President’s Weekend in Mexico City to enjoy museums and world-class restaurants
Along the way, you will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites, visit three Pueblo Magicos – Malinalco, Taxco and Metepec — and immerse yourself in some of Mexico’s outstanding folk art.
You will even have the option to schedule (at your own expense) an evening massage and/or facial given by aestheticians who will come to our B&B from the spa town of Ixtapan de la Sal.
But, primarily, we are here to learn about the art and craft of making a fine rebozo, meet the men who weave the cloth and the women who tie the elaborate fringe.
Some of the weavers are innovators, like Jesus Zarate, who incorporates intricate floral, bird and animal motifs on the ikat cloth.
Some, like Fito Garcia, use splashes of color that looks like confetti. Camila Ramos ikat designs employ ancient indigenous symbols and figures.
The revered master, 82-year old Evaristo Borboa Casas, is a traditionalist. All have received top honors for their work worldwide.
Each technique requires mathematical and technical precision, extraordinary creativity and months of work to produce one rebozo.
It can take weeks to prepare the ikat warp threads, dye them and dress the loom, with another month or two for the weaving. It can take two or three months to tie a punta, depending on length and elaboration.
After this study trip, I can guarantee that you will better appreciate this textile art form that is at risk of disappearing. Only three or four weavers in Tenancingo continue the back-strap weaving tradition. Sixty years ago there were over 200 weavers working on the back-strap loom.
- 8 nights lodging
- 8 Breakfasts
- 2 Lunches
- 3 Dinners
- Transportation to/from Mexico City and Tenancingo
- Transportation to all towns, villages and artisans noted in itinerary
- Gratuities to artisans for demonstrations
Wednesday, February 3: Arrive in Mexico City, overnight. Dinner on your own. We will stay at a historic luxury hotel on or near the Zocalo. As soon as you register, we will tell you where. You might also like to arrive a few days early to explore the city. It’s wonderful!
Thursday, February 4: Travel as group to Tenancingo, overnight (B, D) Light group supper at our B&B hotel in Tenancingo.
Friday, February 5: Meet the Best of the Best, Tenancingo’s master rebozeros (rebozo weavers) Fermin Escobar, Evaristo Borboa Casas, Jesus Zarate, Fito Garcia Diaz. Take a ride on the flying shuttle peddle loom. Optional evening massage and/or facial. (B, L)
Saturday, February 6: Malinalco Pueblo Magico. Climb the ancient archeological site (if you wish), the only one in Mesoamerican carved out of the rock face. Visit the workshop of Camila Ramos Zamora and award-winning son Juan Rodrigo Mancio Ramos. See how they work the back strap loom and make natural dyes. Take your turn at the back strap loom. See how the ikat is prepared and dyed. Take time to visit the 16th century Augustinian church with the amazing Paradise Garden Murals. Optional evening massage and/or facial. (B)
Sunday, February 7: Tenancingo Market Walk, including the weekly Sunday rebozo market where you can find good quality textiles at affordable prices. Late afternoon fiber arts weaving demonstration and mini-workshop. (B, D) Light group supper at our B&B hotel.
Monday, February 8: A day in Taxco de Alarcon, Pueblo Magico, with the next generation owner of the William Spratling silver jewelry workshop, with lunch at famed Las Delicias, Spratling’s home and a silversmith demonstration. The beautiful original Spratling necklace you see on the right, below, is for sale at $7,000 USD to raise restoration money for the ranch. Interested? (B, L)
Tuesday, February 9: Meet one of Tenancingo’s greatest puntadoras, These are the women who make the elegant rebozo fringes. See if you can tie these intricate knots in a mini-workshop. Afternoon on your own to return to your favorite rebozero, do last minute market shopping or begin packing. (B)
Wednesday, February 10: Travel to Metepec Pueblo Magico , where we will spend the night. Climb the Mesoamerican Teotenango pyramids (if you wish) or visit the museum. Meet master ceramic artists who create outstanding tree of life sculptures and make sturdy cooking cazuelas. Try your hand in a mini-workshop to make one of the clay figures that adorn Mexico’s famed Tree of Life sculptures. Overnight in Metepec with grand finale dinner. (B, D)
Thursday, February 11: Leave Metepec in early morning for Mexico City airport to catch mid-afternoon flights home. If you decide to extend your stay in Mexico over President’s Day Weekend you can easily catch a secure taxi from the airport to downtown Mexico City or travel on to another great spot like Oaxaca! (B)
Study Tour Cost as of October 1, 2015
- Double Occupancy– Shared Room and Private Bath, $1,695 per person
- Single Room with Private Bath, $1,995 per person
The study tour includes all transportation between Mexico City and Tenancingo de Degollado, lodging in Mexico City, Tenancingo and Metepec, meals as noted in the itinerary, travel to all artisans and destinations noted on the itinerary, cultural bi-lingual guide services, and grand finale Metepec dinner. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the study tour begins.
The study tour does not include airfare, taxi from Mexico City airport to Mexico City hotel, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.
Question: Why aren’t all meals included?
The best answer I can give is that we all have different body rhythms and eating habits. Some of us like a bigger meal during the day, some prefer to eat lightly or not at all at night. Some love their steak and potatoes at 8 p.m. while others prefer a salad. Some like quieter time rather than a daily group experience. I try to make this trip individualized with room for enough personal preference and variation to meet everyone’s needs rather than one size fits all.
Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before December 1, 2015. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.
If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After December 1, 2015, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before December 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.
About Travel to Mexico City: The Mexico City Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) is our gateway city and a Mexico City historic center hotel is our meeting point. You can fly to Mexico City from many United States locations on most major USA airlines. Mexico’s excellent new discount airlines Interjet and Volaris service some U.S. cities, as does Aeromexico.
International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for insurance documentation as well as a witnessed waiver of liability form that holds Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC harmless. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.
To register, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.
A Day with Silver Icon William Spratling and Heir Violante Ulrich in Taxco, Mexico
William Spratling died in 1967 but his legacy lives on through the efforts of Violante Ulrich and her sister Consuelo. Their father, Alberto Ulrich, was a close Spratling friend and supporter. They drove race cars together along the narrow winding roads connecting Taxco with the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco. Ulrich took over the Spratling enterprise then to keep it going and his daughters are also committed to this.
There are few remaining silversmiths in Taxco from that era. All the shops whose mast-head bear the names of the famous masters such as Los Castillos, Antonio Pineda and Enrique Ledesma are now mostly filled with production pieces. Very little is still made by hand. (There is one Taxco shop called Hecho a Mano that makes excellent reproductions of significant pieces.)
In production, silver fish with ebony, a favorite Spratling jewelry hardwood
I made arrangements with Violante to spend a day with her in Taxco during our recent folk art study tour. Silver is to Mexico what rebozos are, too. Part of this country’s cultural identity. So, seeing the Spratling home Las Delicias where he first lived and worked was an essential part of this experience.
Rafa melting 925 parts silver and 75 parts copper to make 925 jewelry
I remember visiting the Spratling silver galleries in Taxco in the early 1970’s. I was young and couldn’t afford much. Even then, Spratling was a legend. There were many beautiful pieces for sale in the showroom on the plaza. I managed to buy a small chain for $35 USD — a big sum then — and still have it!
Sterling silver flatware with rosewood, $1,000 USD a place setting
Taxco is about a two-hour drive from Tenancingo, so it made sense to me to schedule this as a day trip. When we arrived, we had breakfast at S’Caffecito prepared by Violante and her staff, got a tour of the house, galleries and and rooftop terrace overlooking the church.
Above left, Violante with a Marilyn Monroe chair. Right, the Spratling monkey.
1950’s vintage Spratling owl pin with amethyst eyes
Then, we got in the van and drove to Taxco El Viejo on the road to Iguala, where Spratling later built his ranch. He did this for many reasons. He wanted privacy and a workshop away from the hovering eyes of other Taxco silversmiths who began to copy his work.
Spratling workshop, just as it was then. Antonio demonstrates.
It was amazing to be in this space where all the equipment used now was the same as it was then.
The beginning of the owl pin with the amethyst eyes.
The jewelry molds are exactly as they were, and skilled craftsmen are creating silver flatware inlaid with rosewood, pins, necklaces, bracelets and earrings in the same gauge metal and quality that William Spratling used.
Annealing the silver owl pin that will have amethyst eyes
Not much has changed, thankfully, except that the next generation of Spratling silversmiths include Violante and Consuelo who have registered a new stamp with the Mexican government and also design and produce their own work.
We toured the workshops and met silversmiths Antonio and Rafael who demonstrated the process to make Spratling’s famous owl pin with the amethyst eyes. We saw the original molds, examples of Spratling’s original work and the pieces made today that are for sale. (Of course, there was lots to try on.)
We saw the chairs that Spratling designed for Marilyn Monroe that went undelivered because of her suicide.
How did they know this? Margarita Gonzales, the accountant, kept impeccable records, and when Alberto Ulrich found the stash of chairs tucked away in a closet, he knew exactly where to look to track the provenance.
Old iron nails kept for furniture restoration projects
After a tour of the ranch and the workshops, we settled in for a delicious lunch under the corridor next to the kitchen. We talked about beauty, history, Spratling’s love of red, white and blue ornamentation that represented to him the colors of melting silver. We saw pre-Columbian sculpture and folk art figures from Spratling’s personal collection.
A day with Violante Ulrich is a rich experience by which to understand the lore and history of Taxco silver making and the life of William Spratling. She is an artful cook, outstanding silversmith, great host and dedicated to preserving the ranch which is in need of restoration. We were fortunate to spend this time with her.
At the end of the afternoon there was enough independent time to explore the steep cobbled hill town, go into the church and search for more silver treasures before heading back to Tenancingo.
A surprise awaited us! In the church was sculptor Miguel D. Sobrino who created the silver Virgin of Guadalupe that stands beside the altar encased in protective glass. Except today, Our Lady had been removed from her case and was being thoroughly cleaned to prepare her for a move to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City to greet Pope Francis.
We enjoyed lots of views — from the Las Delicias rooftop garden and the terrace overlooking the central plaza. For some on the study tour, this trip to Taxco was a dream come true. I hadn’t been back for 44 years until last September. I’m looking forward to the next time. I hope you can come with me.
Ten wonderful women + me, February 2016 study tour on the Spratling terrace
I will be organizing this rebozo study tour for mid-September 2016 to coincide with the Tenancingo rebozo fair. There will be a few modifications in the itinerary we just completed but the trip to Taxco is set in stone! Please tell me if you are interested. Get on the notification list!
If you want to take a silver jewelry making workshop at the Spratling Ranch, please contact Violante directly. She is also starting a B&B there, so there are some accommodations. The ranch is in need of restoration so please support her efforts in any way you can. It’s an important part of Mexican history. Thank you!
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged art, forging, jewelry, Las Delicias, Mexico, silver, Spratling ranch, study tour, Taxco, travel, Violante Ulrich, William Spratling, workshop